Miami with the FT

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Miami is a good place to drink. The sticky weather means a cool beverage is almost always welcome. The frenetic pace of the city, its noise and bustle, means a little dose of alcohol at the end of the day (and occasionally in the middle) is no less than medicinal. And the fact that the city is a tourist destination means that there are plenty of options for somewhere to sip.

The main temptation, of course, is just to hang around at your hotel bar, or even better, slurp next to the pool. This is a respectable choice. But on a recent weekend I decided — as a middle-aged New Yorker — to take a shot at Miami nightlife. Here is what I found.

Blackbird Ordinary (Brickell)

729 SW first Avenue, Miami, FL 33130

  • Good for: DJ sets and late-night drinks (it’s open until 5am) for the next generation

  • Not so good for: The over-30s

  • FYI: It has a patio area for enjoying a drink al fresco

  • Website; Directions

Blackbird Ordinary’s London Sparrow: gin, passion fruit, lemon juice and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper
Blackbird Ordinary’s London Sparrow: gin, passion fruit, lemon juice and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper
Birds of a feather: the downtown venue attracts a young, hipsterish crowd
Birds of a feather: the downtown venue attracts a young, hipsterish crowd

My companion and I arrived at Blackbird Ordinary at 10pm, thinking it was already late; of course, we were wildly early. The music was loud, current and meant for dancing, but while the bar and its surrounding dark leather booths were busy, the dance floors (one with underfloor lighting à la Saturday Night Fever) were still empty, and the crowd was just filtering in. The vibe and the staff were hipsterish, local and friendly, and the big, indoor/outdoor space is right downtown, in the Brickell neighbourhood. Blackbird is known for serving excellent cocktails, but its drinks menu also features an extensive selection of craft beer and spirits.

The problem, my friend and I soon realised, was our age, which appeared to be about double the average. I’m all in favour of young people, but it was clear that we were anthropological curiosities to the rest of the crowd. We drank a couple of bourbons and slunk out, feeling defeated, just as the next generation was filling up the dance floor.

Komodo (Brickell)

801 Brickell Avenue, Miami, FL 33131

  • Good for: A very Miami night out

  • Not so good for: The underdressed. The crowd here puts in a solid sartorial effort.

  • FYI: Komodo is a restaurant and bar with an impressive cocktail list. Its concoctions are clever combinations of Asian flavours with classic recipes, such as the Szechuan Old Fashioned (bourbon, cardamom bitters and lemon)

  • Website; Directions

All aboard the Pineapple Express: tequila, mescal, pineapple, chilli and lime
All aboard the Pineapple Express: tequila, mescal, pineapple, chilli and lime
Komodo is known for its loungey vibe
Komodo is known for its loungey vibe

More to our taste was the long, curved bar at Komodo, just a few blocks away from Blackbird Ordinary. It was packed with revellers, all sharply turned out for a big night. At 11pm or so, we were able to get past the velvet rope after a minimal wait, but a table in the big, multilevel, plant-filled, south-east-Asian themed dining room was out of the question, despite my protests that I was a famous FT journalist on a nightlife research mission.

Komodo’s high-gloss, loungey vibe is reputed to attract local celebrities (at least when it opened a few years ago). I didn’t spot any, but I felt like one when I finally got up to the bar and put my drink order in (my friend and I picked one of the several Japanese Scotch-style whiskies on offer — delicious, as they should have been at $25 each). The man standing next to me was wearing a crisp blue suit, thick-soled brothel-creeper shoes and no shirt. He looked fantastic. Most of the women were in vertiginous heels, longish clinging dresses and heavy make-up. The prospects for striking up a conversation with a stranger were limited by the deafening music, but boy, did I feel like I was in Miami.

Broken Shaker (Miami Beach)

2727 Indian Creek Drive, Miami Beach, FL 33140

  • Good for: A laid-back afternoon or evening sipping handcrafted cocktails in a backyard oasis

  • Not so good for: A wild night out. It has more of a tropical, poolside vibe

  • FYI: Broken Shaker also has outposts in New York, LA and Chicago

  • Website; Directions

A ‘tree-lined backyard oasis’: Broken Shaker . . . 
A ‘tree-lined backyard oasis’: Broken Shaker . . . 
. . . where you might kick back with a Thought Adjuster: rye, mango and orange topped with red wine
. . . where you might kick back with a Thought Adjuster: rye, mango and orange topped with red wine

Another night, we struck out for Broken Shaker in Miami Beach. On the way, I thought we had gotten lost; it is on the quieter western edge of Miami Beach, at the end of a nondescript block.

The entrance is through the lobby of the Freehand hotel, which has a humble, well-worn look. Down the hall and out the back, though, is my platonic ideal of a Miami watering hole: an intimate, tree-lined, brick-floored backyard oasis with gentle music, twinkling lighting suspended from branches, a little swimming pool and lots of small, leafy nooks for private conversation.

My friend and I slurped rum and tonics in beach chairs under a palm tree, listened to reggae, and were very happy indeed.

Faena Hotel (Miami Beach)

3201 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33140

  • Good for: A very fun night out in a very over-the-top place

  • Not so good for: Anyone hoping for an early night. You’ll be dancing into the wee hours

  • FYI: Los Fuegos is an upscale Argentinian restaurant by day and night, but transforms into a raucous nightclub when it gets late

  • Website; Directions

Roar power: the gloriously over-the-top Faena Hotel
Roar power: the gloriously over-the-top Faena Hotel
The venue’s cocktail offerings include the Colombian Passion: 12-year rum, passion-fruit purée, cinnamon and lemon juice
The venue’s cocktail offerings include the Colombian Passion: 12-year rum, passion-fruit purée, cinnamon and lemon juice

Our final stop, late at night on Saturday, was the Faena Hotel, one of the slickest in Miami Beach, backed by the billionaire Leonard Blavatnik. The whole place is gloriously, hilariously over the top, from the Damien Hirst gilded mammoth skeleton that stands in a huge glass box in the garden to the lurid, religion- and mythology-themed murals in the marble-floored, golden-columned lobby. (Be prepared for prices that match the decor.)

We were told that we could not get into the Los Fuegos room, which turns from a restaurant into a nightclub in the small hours, because it was full up. But this time the FT card worked, and the manager slipped open the velvet rope. The DJ was great, spinning ’70s disco and classic pop hits on top of strong dance beats, all under huge, tacky chandeliers.

Every age and nationality was represented among the revellers who crowded the bar and danced on the banquettes. I heard British accents, French and Russian shouted above the music (it was all I could do to shout “Beer!” when I finally flagged down a bartender, but champagne seemed to be the crowd favourite). As the night got late, the music shifted from North America to Latin America, and the crowd sang along in Spanish. The party was still raging when we headed home, exhausted.

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